What is the difference between a Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Psychotherapist, Therapist, Counselor, Coach, Marriage and Family Therapist, and Social Worker?

If you are searching for psychological help, and you are not asking this question, you should be. There are some very important distinctions that should be made and are important for you to know in your search.

Below I will list out the main differences that I am aware of. Please take note that this is my perspective as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and is only my perspective. Also, I am going to make generalizations so know that there are exceptions to every generalization.

Psychotherapist: Anyone who practices psychotherapy and holds a license from the state to provide psychotherapy which is the process of understanding and creating change for problematic moods, thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

The process of becoming licensed is a lengthy and costly one.

So know that if you want to see someone who is licensed, they have literally put in thousands of hours of study and practice (for the MFT license it is no less than 3000 hours seeing clients) BEFORE they are even allowed to take the state licensing exam.

Individuals with Liscence will either work directly with health insurance companies, or can be reimbursed by your insurance if you carry a PPO plan. Following are a list of licensed individuals:

Psychiatrist: This is a state and board licensed Medical doctor, an MD. They have license to prescribe medication and many solely focus on medication. If you are wanting a more natural approach that includes medicine you will either want to see someone in addition to a psychiatrist or ask the potential psychiatrist if they incorporate psychotherapy.

Psychiatric Nurse: Is someone who has got their license as a nurse with an emphasis on mental illness. Psychiatric Nurses often do many of the things a Psychiatrist does, prescribing medication and practicing Psychotherapy. If you pay out of pocket, Psychiatric Nurses can be a more affordable option than Psychiatrists.

If you want medication, you’ll want to visit a Psychiatrist or a Psychiatric Nurse.

Clinical Psychologists: Here is another place this can become a bit confusing. What winds up to happen often is that Psychologists, PhDs are confused with Medical Doctors, MDs because most people think of a doctor as someone who practices internal medicine.

However the word doctor refers to Doctorate –

PhDs are Doctors of Philosophy, MDs are Doctors of Medicine. Most Psychologists have an emphasis on Psychological Testing and Research.

While Social Worker’s, MFTs and Counselors can diagnose, if it is vitally important for you to know your exact diagnosis(eg ADHD, Bi-Polar, Narcissistic, Clinically Depressed etc.).

I would see a Psychologist.


I hope this article helped clarify some of the confusing and questions that I often hear surrounding this topic. At Love Therapy Center, we are all licensed Marriage & Family Therapists and Interns.

Additionally, many of us have and continue to enhance our skills and credentials. Some of the additional processes you can expect as part of our treatment program are EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). We always welcome questions so feel free to visit us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google +.

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